My friends are listening to the war

Liuba Ilnytska


Based on the stories and experiences of Antonina Romanova, Anastasia Kosodiy, Oksana Leuta, Roman Kryvdyk, and Mykola Homaniuk.



At night, Mykola is on the train from Kyiv to Kherson. He’s sleeping.
He’s sleeping. He knows it’s still an hour to the final station.
He’s sleeping. What he does not know is that the final station may not be there.
Mykola is roused by a woman’s voice pleading with the conductor to stop the train immediately.
Because at this very moment, in this very field with no station in sight, she has to get off.
People on the train are tittering, people on the train are rattling their suitcases.
People are making noise, talking, whispering. People are silent.
People speak cautiously of a shelling.

The train approaches Mykolaiv and the first explosions are heard. A large window at the station cracks from the explosion, breaks into pieces, and falls with a loud clang.

Terrified by the sound of the glass, the train takes off.
It didn’t stay at the station for as long as scheduled.
The train got scared and continued on to Kherson.

Mykola gets off at the station in Kherson.
There is commotion. There is commotion in the city. A mass of cars. Traffic jams.
Mykola feels as if he’s walking to the underground against the flow.
“Everyone is fleeing Kherson, and I’m going home.”


Roman is in position. The freezing cold makes it impossible to warm up.
He shifts from foot to foot to spread the heat over his body.
The snow creaks. He doesn’t get any warmer.
Roman and his companions return to the back; there is a fire burning in the makeshift stove.
At last, the warmth spreads through the body.
Crackling wood and creaking snow.
Crackling wood and creaking snow.

Nastia returns to Kyiv in August.
She returns for a few days from Berlin.
Nastia has moved more than once in the past months.
Now she wants to go to her favourite café, to see if it’s still there.
Take a walk along her favourite routes.
Nastia wants to recreate the route she often used to walk home – to Solomianska Street.
There is a motorway here, the cars are driving fast, and their rumble creates a white noise that often came in handy when Nastia needed to think things through.
She wants to glue these memories together, to go back.
But there is no time.

Protected by armoured walls,
In a car following a dusty road,
are French TV journalists.
Oksana accompanies them.
The armoured car creaks quietly, the engine emits a steady murmur, the people inside are silent.

On such trips, Oksana listens to people.
She listens and translates them into French.
People cry, plead, joke, laugh, talk about their experiences, give instructions.
Oksana listens and translates.

Antonina and her companion retreat with a mortar from their position, which is under heavy fire.
It is one of her toughest nights.
Three and a half kilometres through a wooded area, in absolute darkness.
They both take out the mortar.
They press on,
even though it exceeds their physical capabilities.

The ground is riddled with explosion craters.
Antonina stumbles and falls.
Antonina doesn’t have the strength to get up.
Her companion is exhausted and sits down.
Suddenly, a machine gun starts firing
and the barely audible sound of a bullet, flying through the grass, stings in the ear.

I tread through the snowy forest with my group, I am fourth in line.
We are retracing each other’s footsteps.
This requires focus.
Apart from me there are only men here, whose shoes are larger,
so I can easily place my foot in the shared footprints of those
who walk ahead of me.
The instructor says that an important element of combat is to listen to the space around you.
I find it difficult to simultaneously look where I step, survey my sector
and maintain eye contact with those in formation.

I listen in:
Muffled shots echo in the distance,
Barely audible sounds of cars come from the motorway.
Ice-covered treetops sway in the wind and crackle like crushed caramel.
Somewhere on the left, a branch snaps –
I cautiously stop and point the dummy rifle towards the sound.
I continue to move. I listen.


We waited a long time; they were afraid to enter the city.
They surrounded it:
Tanks, combat vehicles.
In the video, from a distance, they looked like lice.
Lice around Kherson.
And they were afraid to enter.

They entered on the first,
and already on the second, their procession rode through the city – in three rows.
A very frightened procession.
A frightened occupation.
Through his window, Mykola sees three soldiers.
One squatted behind the garage to take a shit, and two others covered him with machine guns.

A shelter in the basement of an apartment block.
There are many people here, many children.
The children are running around, kicking up dust. Nastia starts coughing.

Announcements in Ukrainian are broadcast at German train stations:
Dear Ukrainians, if you need help, please go here and here.
Do not accept offers of accommodation from people at the station – contact organisations that can provide you with temporary housing!
Never give your passport to strangers!

To Roman, war sounds like a hiss.
A chorus of hissing beasts, snakes, lizards, birds, beetles, animals, fish…
The sound of hatred.
Accompanying this choir is the awkward crying of adult men.
They can no longer hold back their tears,
but this society hasn’t taught them to cry.
And now they don’t know how, so they cry as best they know,
and their cries turn into howls.

In a Kyiv mortuary, Leonid, a pathologist, is sharpening knives in the morning.
Oksana enters the dissecting room with French gendarmes examining the bodies of those killed in Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel.
– Oksana, ask the French if they too start each morning with a knife-sharpening ceremony.
No. The French use disposable tools.
– Tell the French not to throw away those disposables, I’ll use them for ten more years.

On her fourth day in the dissecting room, Oksana is getting used to the circumstances.
She is able to walk up to one of the black bags,
undo the zip,
dip her hand in,
take out the protocol.

She can translate the result of the ballistics test:
How the bullet entered the body,
what position the body was in at the time of the shot.

She can approach the next black bag,
undo the zip,
dip her hand in,
take out the protocol.

She can listen to the conclusions of a superficial examination of the body.
Of what is left of the body.
To listen to the description of the clothes, the sex, the hair, the wounds, the cords on the wrists.

Oksana can approach one more of those black bags.
Undo the zip,
dip her hand in,
take out the protocol.

Mykola. Zhenia. Tetiana. Ivan.
Mykola. Zhenia. Tetiana. Ivan.
40. 889.
Vasyl. Ivan. Semen. Olha. Konstiantin. Olena. Dmytro.
12. 03. 52. 21.
Mykola. Zhenia. Tetiana. Ivan.
Mykola. Zhenia. Tetiana. Ivan.
40. 889.
Vasyl. Ivan. Semen. Olha. Kostiantyn. Olena. Dmytro.
12. 03. 52. 21.
Mykola. Zhenia. Tetiana. Ivan.
45. 992.
Dmytro. Uliana. Echo. Tetiana.
Olha. Tetiana. Ivan. Pavlo.
68. 55. 64. 14
Boris. Olha. Mykhailo. Yevhen.
Olha. Konstiantin. Ivan.
Olena. Mykhailo. Kyrylo.
11. 72. 24. 08.

On the front line, Antonina hears data coming in from walkie-talkies.
Positions and orders are encrypted.
Antonina operates according to enemy positions.

The missile flies.
Around forty seconds.
These are the seconds you’ve got.


The animals grunt, bleat, meow, moo.
They wander in herds through abandoned villages.
Instinct causes them to unite, compels them to survive.
At night, Antonina hears how a cow wounded by a bullet moos and cries in a field.
In the yard, a woman holds a frightened cat that meows and wants to get away.
The woman laughs:
"No one is giving you away. No one is giving you away. You’re mine. You’re mine. You’re mine. And that’s that."

Dogs bark and fawn at military men.
The dogs are whining. There are lots of them. They’re frightened.
Cats purr and warm the soldiers in the dugouts.
Mice are munching crisps nearby.
A tortoise is scratching in a box.
A guinea pig is making rustling noises in a carrier,
lizards freeze motionless.
A parrot makes loud noises against the morning sun outside the couchette window.
Migrants of all colours and hues.
A dirty kitten sits next to a shell-damaged building.
It’s picked up by a fixer accompanying French journalists.
The kitten grows, likes to sit on the windowsill of an undamaged building with glazed windows.
The kitten drops the Swiss cheese plant pot.


I listen to them. Their voices. Their language. The rhythm of the phrases.
The stories. The pauses. Laughter.

Antonina speaks quietly.
She makes long pauses, collects her thoughts.
So beautiful in her simple courage and fatigue.
On this, her hardest night, she sends me a fearful message.
I pause involuntarily between the kitchen and the hallway.
I lean my forehead against the doorframe and repeat in my mind:
She must reach her destination, she must, she must.
Mykola speaks calmly.
His language is full of poetic imagery.
Like the train that was frightened by the broken glass.
The train was frightened...
How can one describe war in this way?
The coverage breaks. They’ve turned off the electricity.

Oksana speaks calmly.
She has a wonderful low voice.
You can just listen to how she adds depth to every sound.
She changes it somewhere in her larynx.
It reverts to the form that nature intended as most pleasing to human ears.
But Oksana is worried.
About those she meets on her travels.
But most of all about lonely old people.
And this worry reverberates in her voice like ice falling on the asphalt.

Nastia speaks calmly.
Her melancholy is enchanting, it gives a false sense of softness.
One shouldn’t give in to it.
The soft fluency of her voice does not dull the sharpness of her words.
All attempts to ask how she listens to the war while in Berlin are in vain.
In her story, Nastia persistently returns home:
To Lviv, Kyiv, Zaporizhye.

Roman speaks calmly.
He is energetic and focused.
Clear and articulate in the metaphors he immediately finds for every situation.
He laughs. He jokes.
He talks about the future.
He talks about how he’s crap at sticking to the rhythm,
He allows himself to linger in an arrhythmic cacophony.
He says: so as not to go deaf from the war – you have to scream.

I listen to them.
I listen to how they hear the war.


The siren in Zaporizhye is not as impressive as those in Kyiv and Lviv.
"It just howls on a single tone, and no one gives a fuck," says Nastia.
But during the blast, the windows start to shake and the glass shivers.
Nastia's mother tears her gaze away from the TikTok on her phone and points at the glass.

At breakfast in a hotel in Warsaw, Nastia suddenly hears the sound of the 'Air Alert' app from a neighbouring table.
Wasn’t that in Zaporizhye? It must have been Zaporizhye.
That siren from the phone sounds incomparably worse than in Kyiv and Lviv.
It sounds so bad that it really becomes frightening.
Nastia prefers to listen to the siren from the speakers in Lviv or Kyiv.
And even better in Zaporizhye.
There, the siren is not so scary.
It just howls on a single tone, and no one gives a fuck.

Cluster bomb strikes are a long, tedious process.
They fly, and Antonina hears – they fly.
She waits.
It takes time.
Before they fall, they release their load, and Antonina hears – they have released their load.
She waits.
It still goes on.
Slowly they descend, and Antonina hears – it's close, she waits.
Everything still goes on.

Eventually they break apart.
Open your mouth.
Open your mouth.
So that your eardrums won't burst.

The sound changes.
At first Oksana can't hear at all.
Then everything sounds as if her head is under water.
Over time, her hearing slowly returns, but partially.
Until she heals her eardrums.
This is what May sounds like.
This is what Oksana's brain injury sounds like after the mortar shelling of an evacuation convoy in the Luhansk region.
This is what death sounds like.

Nights are the scariest thing.
The scariest thing is being in the house.
An armoured vehicle drives into the yard of the house.
Every night Mykola grapples with the thought that this time the combat vehicle has come for him.
He reviews the possible algorithm of events in his head,
But if you're dealing with professionals, they'll find you anyway.

An armoured car engine at night – that's what fear sounds like.

But at noon people are still gathering in the square.
Mykola is among them.
They chant slogans, outshouting songs from dumb Soviet cartoons that the Russians play.
A tear gas canister flies towards the crowd, rolling across the tarmac.
It clatters and hisses loudly.
But then someone shouts a slogan again, the crowd takes it up.

This is what resistance sounds like.
This is the sound of not-entirely-occupied Kherson.

The phone rings.
It rings and doesn't stop.
The fighter to whom the phone belonged will no longer take calls.
His comrades stand, watching, and no one is ready.
The ringtone plays.
And keeps playing.
It plays for as long as the person on the other end tries to get through.


Silence is like a pause.
Summer silence, like sweltering heat in the countryside.
Ukrainian east, south-east.
Very high temperatures in summer: +35.

The heat dries everything up, the fruits fall, the fruits lie.
Fruits on a break.

This sweltering silence has spread to Kyiv this year,
I do not remember Kyiv like this summer.
It was always filled with people.
And now it’s deserted.
The silence of not speaking when someone dies and you can't talk to anyone about it.
The strange silence of a curfew in Zaporizhye,
Lights off for blackout
And only cars very rarely passing down the street.

Silence is the most terrible thing.
Silence means the irreversible physical death of a fighter.
Silence when the names are read out of those who will now stay in the ranks forever, but their voices will no longer resound.
Silence when you fall asleep because you can no longer physically cope.
And you sink into that inner silence while bombs are flying around you.
The silence that is yet to come, in which we will have to process it all within ourselves,
In which somehow the scales of camouflage will have to be shed.

Silence that will have to be recovered.
Silence that will have to restore a measure of peace and tranquillity.

Silence and peace are an anomaly.
The pendulum never stops,
But in some of its positions there is peace, stillness.
In dynamics, in movement, silence and peace are also present,
One only needs to focus and notice these moments.
Enjoy life in the midst of this cruel hell, reclaim this silence, this peace for yourself with a sword.


Nastia sits with her friends on the banks of the Dnipro in Kyiv.
She is calm, she is at home, these are her people, this is her time, her river.
Barges slice the water, the waves parting and splashing behind them.
The Dnipro is mighty and imposing, but calm, gentle, and peaceful. Its glistening waters flow south-east,
To Zaporizhye, where Nastia's parents are still under fire.
Does the water lose its calm,
does it become tense from the growing roar of explosions?
Does anyone ask her how she hears the war?
Before she falls into the depths of the Black Sea,
the Dnipro crosses the front line,
she enters Kherson without a fight, meets no resistance,
she surrounds the islands, joins the tributaries.
On the shore in Kherson stands Mykola.
And listens to the voice of hope.
The splash of the waves, the tide on the river tell him of the passage of time.
All this will pass.
This Dnipro, it’s thousands of years old,
And if the Dnipro doesn’t seem to notice,
then it’s not worth your fear.
And all this will pass like a ghastly vision.


December 2022

  • Roza Sarkisian
  • Liuba Ilnytska
  • Diana/Dobromiła Krawiec/Dobro
  • Liliia Kryvets
    Key Cast
  • Olesia Onykiienko
  • Aleksandra Szkudłapska
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Мої друзі слухають війну
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Audio-drama, Radio-documentary
  • Length:
    31 minutes 52 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 24, 2023
  • Country of Origin:
  • Language:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Staromiejski Dom Kultury
    Country: Poland
    Rights: All Rights
Artist Biography

Roza Sarkisian is a theatre director and curator. She graduated from the Theatre Directing Department at the I. P. Kotlyarevski National University of Arts in Kharkiv (2012) and from the Political Sociology Department at the V. N. Karazin National University in Kharkiv (2009). In the years of 2017 -2019 Roza worked as the Head Theatre Director of the First Ukrainian Academic Theatre for Children and Youth in Lviv. In the years of 2017 -2019 she worked as the Theatre Director on the House in Ivano-Frankivsk National Academic Drama and Music Theatre.

In her Kharkiv artistic period she was the founder and artistic director of the independent De Facto Theatre (2012-2017), where she directed the play Ja, mein Führer by Brigitte Schweiger, performance VO(Y)NA, post-documentary play Museum of Peace. Museum of War, To Kill Woman and others productions.

Among her recent most applauded works are: Yes, my Fuhrer (Theatre DeFacto, 2014), the My Granddad was digging. My Dad was digging. But I Won't Do It (Ukrainian-Polish co-production, co-director: Agnieszka Błońska, 2016); Theory of the Big Filter (Theatre of the Contemporary Dialog, Poltava, 2017); Psychosis (Theatre Actor in Kyiv, 2018); Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful Times (the First Theatre in Lviv, 2018); and Macbeth (Academic Lesia Ukrainka Drama Theatre in Lviv, 2019), H-effect based on Hamlet by Shakeaspeare and Hamletmaschine by Heiner Muller (Ukraine-Polish-German co-production, NGO “Art-Dialogue”, 2020), Radio Mariia by Joanna Wichowska and Krysia Bednarek (Theatre Powszechny in Warsaw, 2022).

Her productions, dealing with the topics of collective memory, national identity, political manipulation, non-normativity and social oppression have won several awards and invitations to many festivals in Ukraine (including Gogol Fest in Kyiv , 2014 and 2016; Urban Exploration Lviv Fest 2014; GaliciaKult in Kharkiv, 2016; Terra Futura in Kherson, 2016; Startup Gogol Fest in Mariupol 2017; the Golden Lion in Lviv, 2018; Parade Fest in Kharkiv, 2018 and 2019; Svitohliad in Severodonieck, 2019) and in Poland: Desant.UA Festival in Warsaw, 2017; Close Strangers Festival in Poznań, 2019.

Roza is a winner of the British Council Ukraine competition "Taking the Stage 2017", as well as the Gaude Polonia scholarship of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland in 2017, International Mobility Grant “Culture Bridges” and the Artistic Scholarship from the President of Ukraine in 2019/2020. She also won a "City of Lviv Personality of the Year 2018” award in the category of Theatre.

She has been an initiator, curator and director of numerous art and education projects for teenagers, such as festivals “Drama Teen Lab” and “Уoung Directors for Children”, realized at the First Theatre in Lviv, or "Voices of Neighborhood". She also has led numerous workshops for teenagers and created the performances with young non-proffesional actors and people with a disability.

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